Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ready to Shake

By Jay Fermin

Every year, millions of volunteers participate in Southern California ‘Great ShakeOut’ drill. From schools, to civic and church organization, to neighborhood groups; they have one goal: to ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On’ during a strong earthquake.

After all, California is not a stranger to earthquakes. We have felt the strength of the 1994 Northridge Quake. We get rattled by a few smaller ones every now and then. Flashback images come to mind of the 1906 San Francisco 7.8 tremblor that caused a massive fire because the underground water main pipes were disconnected and there was no water pressure from the fire hydrants.

We cannot predict the next event, however we can prepare if we understand and educate ourselves with what we might expect to happen. The only way to do this is to tell a story of a ‘sample scenario’ of what we call ‘The Big One.’ And remember, this is only a drill:

Thursday 9:00 a.m.

200,000 commuters have made their way from neighbouring Kern, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties to work in the Los Angeles Area. Everybody is excited for the approaching weekend. They have joined almost 7 million other southern Californians in the workplace from nearby suburbs.

Trucks and trains are on the move, being the pipeline of commerce and industry for Los Angeles. Underground cables connect the already busy day thru phone and internet, connecting banks, large corporations, suppliers, buyers and sellers, as well as friends and families.

It is a well known fact that the San Andreas Fault slices thru California and marks the boundary between the Pacific and the North American tectonic plates. They are locked into each other, trying to slide past each other for the past 150 years. This huge faultline has a history of rupture every 150 years. However, the last time was more than 300 years ago.

Thursday 10:10 a.m.

At Bombay Beach, northeast of the Salton Sea where the San Andreas faultline ends (extending thru-out California northward for 800 miles and exits the land area at Daly City near San Francisco), the faultline begins to awaken. The rupture travels northward up towards the Coachella Valley into Cajon Pass.

Although the people in Los Angeles has not felt it yet, the first waves cuts off the Interstate 15 freeway, bending railroad lines, and derailing trains. Roads are severed by crevices, and the other side lifts 15 feet up. Pipeline snap and electrical lines fail.

Strong shaking intensifies in the sediment filled basin of the Inland Empire. Buildings are damaged as the force of quake rumbles northward, spreading wider as a ripple on water. The waves are long and some structures cannot withstand, especially the ones made of brick and concrete. However, other buildings ride the massive waves, like boats on the ocean.

Thursday 10:11:30 a.m.

As the Coachella Valley still shakes, the seismic waves advance rapidly towards Los Angeles and surroundng areas. The shaking is felt stonger on the flat soft valleys and causes a blackout. The building damage causes tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of fatalities, and many more thousands are stranded where they are because the freeway and the roadways are impassable.

Some are trapped on elevators, kitchen floors at people’s homes are littered with broken glass and heaps of cooking oil, syrup, flour, smashed dishes, and the hundreds of miles of water pipes are mostly disconnected, cutting off the water supply.

The freeways are a massive parking lot and people go out of their cars and start walking. Electric trains and bus transport are paralyzed too. Some of the people are waiting in the dark, waiting to be rescued.

Thursday 10:12 a.m. (2 minutes after the quake began)

Finally, the fault has stopped rupturing, but seismic waves continue to advance into Bakersfield and Santa Barbara counties in the north. Here, the shaking is just beginning.

Thursday 10:15 a.m.

Government agencies finally posts preliminary assessment of the earthquake. It is a 7.8 on the richter scale. Some of the TV and radio stations are still out but some are slowly starting to broadcast. Fire Trucks are moving slowly among the debris but they are not stopping. Their standard operating procedure is to survey their area of responsibility and look for the hardest hit area before they can respond. Across Southern California, cell phones, internet, and landline become unusable, overwhelmed by the vast number of attempted calls.

Thursday 10:45 a.m.

The emergency operations centers are activated, and police, fire, and medical personnel including CERT Community Emergency Response Teams are deployed slowly, focusing on the localized areas that are hard hit.

While the quake still travels northbound far from the epicenter, people are able to help others who are trapped or wounded in the damaged structures. Lacking gloves and proper protective equipment, a few more hundred civilians are wounded by broken glass, sharp objects, and the smaller aftershocks which are now occuring. They claw thru the debris with their bare hands.

Hundreds of airliners from around the world are now being diverted away from Southern California, creating an air traffic controller nightmare. As millions soon discover, they are cut off from their family members, with no way to contact them.

Fires and plumes of smoke rises from around the metropolis. This is coming from ruptured underground gas lines and other chemical depots. There is just not enough emergency personnel to help and immediately respond.

The solution:

The best time to prepare for an earthquake is before it happens.

Be educated on what to expect and how to ‘drop, cover, and hold on’ under the table or desk during the shaking. Remember, as long as nothing hits your head, you will be okay. Practice this with the members of your family or your co-workers. Do not run outside the building as falling objects may hit you. After the shaking has stopped, survey your surroundings and plan a safe escape route.

It is good to bolt on heavy objects at your house like TV and Water Heaters. Place heavy things like books on shelves nearer to the floor. Stock up on water of 1 gallon per person per day for 3 days. Also have non-perishable food like canned goods, or food bars that does not require cooking. As a rule of thumb, you should have 8000 calorie food bars for each person for the duration of the 72 hours after the earthquake when emergency resources are stretched out, and the atm might not be working, and if it does, the grocery stores will be running out of food items.

Keep extra medication if you need them in your car, work. and home. Have a pair of rubber shoes also at these three locations, as it will be very hard to walk on your high heels amid the debris. Have a helmet and goggles handy, and rubber boots and a pair of rubber gloves if possible just in case you need to clear out fallen objects or need to extract yourself from a structure.

Stock up a bag full of extra clothes in your office and the car just in case you won’t be able to get home in these 3 days following the disaster. Designate a family or friend from out of state that will be your main contact person. You might not be able to call within the state, but there will be a good chance that you can make phone calls outside of the state.

If you have pets, make sure they have a supply of food and water and count them in when you do your emergency preparedness pack. Have pneumatic flashlights and AM radio ready, the ones that do not need batteries. An emergency blanket can also be handy especially if the temperature dips during the night and there is no electricity.

Plan on having first aid kits even in the car or office. These may include bandages, antibiotic creams, scissors, latex glove and antiseptic wipes. Include pain relievers in your pack. If you know how to use them, or if you are a licensed operator, you can purchase two-way radio for communication. Check with your local authorities for licensing and frequency allocations.

Include hand tools that you feel you might need to move heavy objects out of your way. Also have an amount of money ready, as the banks and atm will be non operational. Have a copy of all your important records like birth certificates and other legal documents in a water-proof plastic container to enable you to establish identity when needed.

The best way to plan your preparation is to get information from the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) and customized these lists to suit your needs. You can also join the local CERT Community Emergency Response Team at your community. CERT is admistered by the Los Angeles Fire Department and / or the Sheriffs Department and administered by Homeland Security. You can visit their website at

Do not become a liability. Now is the time to prepare to Shake.